The Conversation: Making Sense of These Times
A Mighty Companions Project


This conversation begins as an exchange with Irv Thomas, who used to send out a rebel periodical, "Black Bart," to share his worldly observations. (Bear in mind I emailed him, and he intersperced comments, so it's not a conversation – you have to keep looking to what I said for the continuity.) Now, he emails select pieces to which he adds commentaries. I'd written in response to this comment Irv made on a Michael Moore report: "One of the points that Michael Moore made – and very effectively – is that we are NOT powerless, if only we get off our soft butts and find the strategic points at which we can have some effect, even if small. There are numerous possibilities if we look for them and are willing to accept the slowness of the process. Granted, we may not have much time, but...have we anything more important to do with the time we have???"

Suzanne writes to Irv Thomas:

Hmmm. I've been thinking, and want to build on my idol, Michael Moore [see what I have posted of his at "Re STUPID WHITE MEN...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! – a Letter from Michael Moore"], to pass along these new thoughts.

I suggest that it's not that we're on "our soft butts" out of laziness, but it's that we don't have a way to join forces to make anything happen.

Irv responds: Yes, you're probably right about that. I generally try to goad my readers. If one can use the sixties as a model, or the labor movement of earlier decades, it calls for a coalescing of energies with a new or rebellious vision. Then they FIND a way to join forces...they BECOME the force by the sheer mass of their numbers. For possibly several reasons, this just isn't happening today.

And, given "we may not have much time," it's not so OK to be "willing to accept the slowness of the process." So how's about we look to go beyond "the strategic points at which we can have some effect, even if small," about which Michael Moore speaks so compellingly, giving examples from his own life where he stuck his neck out and got some potent results?

Irv responds: Agreed again...the slowness is not so OK. I am trying to move others, as well as myself, out of the paralysis that seems to prevail. Moore is doing a powerful job letting people know that they are not SUCH a minority...but I think we ARE a minority, as are all forces for enlightened change. And the sudden shocking fear engendered by September 11th has been responsible for the same good-guy/bad-guy effect that prompts a helpless prisoner to cling to any authority figure that appears to cater to his raw feelings. These are deep psychological dramas being played out, as everyone tries to act 'normal' about it...but they cling to any seemingly strong, SEEMINGLY sure figure, as to a lifeboat in a tossing sea. I know it's a joke calling Bush that, but just think about the good-cop/bad-cop phenomenon and you can see what is going on.

Those were not suicide bomber times, when the threat to humanity's survival was so everyday possible. The next step would be beyond the small contributions that each person could make, to where we somehow become a unified force – the audience Mike gets, of the thousands of people who aren't Bushites, somehow linked up. Here's the tricky part. We don't have any way to do that – no organization is out there to rally us, no hero pointing at how we can become something that can work together. All we have is the Net, where ideas can spread fast. But what idea will turn us into a coordinated body?

Irv responds: I think the best thing on the immediate horizon is the growing threat that we will start a war against Iraq. The idea of starting a war instead of being drawn into one is so deeply antithetical to what has always been understood as the stance of America in the world, that thinking people are immediately put off by it. The very real risk was that the Bush folk would find a way to provoke a 'cause celebre' as has been done many times in the past. But they have shown their hand now, their outright intent to initiate hostilities, and I think this basically runs against the American grain - even for a sizable segment of the Republican party.

I think this is the question that all progressive people should be asking now. Thanks to Moore, we know we have the numbers to be a force. Thanks to Dennis Kucinich, we can feel the breeze of the Internet as a rallying mechanism. Thanks to Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney who, along with Kucinich, keep the voice of dissent alive in the halls of power, and stir so many so much. Thanks to Jim Hightower for opening a door for 7,000 people in one town to come together to cheer the progressive message. So, the stage is set – we know the potential for our power is there. What is the play?

Irv responds: The thing that worries me, despite that avenue of possibility, is that some sort of 'hand of destiny' is apparent in the way this has all shaped up, thus far. The absolute paralysis of the Left, following an extremely unlikely chain of events going back to the election, and even before, has me seeing it all as a shift in the cosmic energy pattern, as has happened in the past when wholegoing turnabouts have taken place. Look at the present tide in France, for the most recent example, which surely has no tie to the American rightward shift - and recall how the Leftward shift happened there, too, in the same timeframe of the '60s as our own. There are forces simply beyond our understanding...forces that function in the collective mind, often regardless of what individuals might do. And they tend, when sufficiently overwhelming, to neutralize what is thrown against them.

I have a thought. What do you think?

I was with Gary Gach ("The Idiot's Guide to Buddhism" – &, when he did a radio show here in Los Angeles last week. After the show, it occurred to me how we could be uniting. Here's the email I sent to Gary:

Hey you, I really learned stuff last night. Buddhism made matter of fact. Just eat when you eat, and pay attention to every chew. So easy. You presented it compellingly. Everyone can do it.

Why not start a movement? Everybody is lost – like the Democratic Party, for a major example. Everybody needs something to get behind. This simple, yet profound "practice" could be it.

How to launch a new vessel based on everyone subscribing to this basic behavioral shift, where each person comes into a consciousness that would change them and then the world? Let's just start. You respond to me. I send it in my Update. Sharp people are reading it. They can chime in.

The world needs an intervention. I love you, world. This is for your own good. You'll be so happy with the results.

No reason to wait another moment. Email back. Beginnings have power and magic in them...

Irv responds: Yes, marvelous, Suzanne...but it sounds to me like you are circling right back to a willingness "to accept the slowness of the process," because there is nothing swift or punchy about the Way of the Buddhist. I'm not objecting to that, merely pointing it out. If it is indeed a 'Cosmic Turn' that we are locked in (and I only suggest the possibility of it), there is little more that we can do.

It's the old, "Be here now." Just do what you do totally. If we all know we're on the same page, it could be a movement. That could be the glue. Simple. Doable. Changeful. This basic practice – "mindfulness" if you label it Buddhist, but, also, the way of conscious life, where it has no label – could create it. Play with that as how potent it could be – as I did, just listening to Gary talk – and email me with your thoughts.

Irv responds: The blessing seeded in that perspective is the recognition that if such things are real (and I truly believe they are), then a greater Intelligence is at work in it. An intelligence that we can trust, even if we cannot momentarily understand what it is doing.

Stay with it, Suzanne...

Gary Gach responds to Suzanne:

When pressed about what to call the way of the Buddha, I often say it is a movement. It's not a religion, per se, 'cos it doesn't deal with God, or no God; not philosophy in terms of traditional western metaphysical terms; not psychology as it doesn't treat "self."

[Your conversants] might be interested in what's called "engaged Buddhism," engaged in the world, not navel-gazing in a detached monastery; contemporary; aware of the web of deceit, greed, ignorance, and fuck-ups in which we're all inextricably bound; realizing that peace is made up of nonpeace elements (I.E., start with where you are); making the unavoidable confrontations with corpses, killing, fragmentation, machines,etc., as part of the Path.

Documentation available in Bernie Glassman's BEARING WITNESS; also anthology by Kotler; and survey by King/Queen. Online, check out the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Suzanne responds to Gary:

OK – will do my best to follow-up. But overwhelm threatens – lovely to have you be the lens for what could be a focused and simple tract.

Jim Dreaver chimes in:

Suzanne, I read your email exchange with Gary Gach.

When I read Joe Simonetta's book, it did occur to me that words alone aren't enough. After all, Jesus's message that we must 'love one another' has been around 2000 years, and there isn't anything more potent than that, yet what good has it done? Noble words are wonderful, but alone they seldom produce an actual shift in perception/consciousness – although sometimes they do trigger a breakthrough for people.

I think the way to do it, or a way to do it – the one way that has not yet been tried (?) – is for those who are committed to global transformation to make their own awakening their first priority, or their central focus, even as they work for change and healing on the outer, social planes.

The first question to ask ourselves must be – if we are to take this path – 'Am I free of suffering myself? Am I free of fear? Am I free of greed, anger, prejudice? Am I free of the need to be special?'

Then we must answer honestly. If yes, then through our example and our work, we facilitate awakening in others. If no, then we must seek out the guidance, the help, the books, or whatever it takes to bring us to freedom.

This, at least, is the approach I am taking.

Suzanne responds to Jim:

The point of Joe's book is for the powers that be to come out of blind devotion to religions, as in 60% of our wars having been fought over same. It lays out a higher order of understanding in which oneness, and not separation, lives. The game plan in terms of his work would be for people like us to appreciate how compelling his argument is for those who need you hear it, and to help get the word to them. Picture the book at the top of the best seller list, becoming the new story. That would be evolutionary.

Now, once you are in synch with his idea, then what? This is where I'm jumping in now – we need that next piece. When I was listening to Gary, his colloquializing Buddhism I think computed with your Advaitish core insight – like two real guys having two different Eastern approaches that could add up to something without a label that could be self help at a core level, practiced by everyone. If you were to think of everybody "getting it" according to your lights, could you give me a paragraph or two that would be the instruction? You probably have it somewhere already. And I'd like to see if I can put something together, intertwining echoes of core stuff, to operationalize what you're suggesting re the vital foundation of each person awakening. Maybe it can be induced – like mass hysteria, only mass awakening.

Jim responds:

I am reminded of the "four points" you made in our previous "Conversation About Being Awake." Very concise and right on!

1. Understand the set-up of reality (right understanding)

2. Self-discipline to stay the witness (right intention)

3. Only serve – here to help and not to be helped (right attitude)

4. Hang around with people who are awake (right activity)

Suzanne responds:

Maybe this could be the map and your paragraphs could be the territory.

Jim responds:

Here's three paragraphs, for starters. I can distill it down, or maybe you will do that for me, superb editor that you are...

What is required for freedom is a shift in perception, a shift in the way you see and experience reality. And the essence of this shift is this: instead of being caught up in your thoughts, and perceiving life from the idea of "I" or "me" – specifically, of "me, myself, and my story" – come back to awareness itself, the awareness that precedes thinking. Come back to the awareness that observes thoughts as they arise.

After all, if you can observe a thought, you cannot be the thought, right? You are what is observing. And what is that? You cannot name it or conceptualize it. The moment you do, you are back in thought again. So, each time you come up with a new story about who you are – "I am an expression of universal intelligence," "I am a child of the divine," or even, "I am a random event in a meaningless cosmos" – step back, so to speak, behind that thought, that story. Keep coming back to the awareness which gives rise to all thoughts, including all thoughts and images of ‘self.’

The more you do this, the more you realize that what you actually are is pure awareness, or consciousness, expressing through this unique instrument, this individual body/mind/self called "you." You are the timeless, unchanging awareness which notices, and responds to, the endlessly changing drama that is life. You are the consciousness that gives birth to the entire world between your ears, the world which you have always thought of as "you." The deeper the realization of this fact, the closer you draw to enlightenment, or freedom.

Suzanne replies:

You are a fun tussler, and I appreciate how you make me feel appreciated.

I'm looking to see if we can advance the action to where some understanding dawns when you become what you aspire to. What if people actually can leap? What if all the traditions, that tell us there are long roads ahead in order to awaken, were able to be superceded now – that it's time for a speed-up, and that people like us could talk ourselves and others into where those roads lead?

What you're describing is how it is for an awakened person. And that being like this is a function of a shift of perception. And you're giving some guidelines for how to make the shift. I would add that making that shift is something that becomes the thing to do at a certain level of sophistication. What happens then, when we use these great brains to accomplish it, is that there is this lift-off from what comes naturally (which is not the awareness of awareness). That fits with the Darwinian matrix, where we develop as a function of short term survival needs. Guided only by biology, we dwell in what's immediate – evolution is from constant victories of genes that survive. There's no seven generations here. The idea that we must shift to what makes for the well-being of the species is something you must come to understand – and we alone, of all animals, have the brainpower for that light to dawn. If is doesn't, we are focused on number one, and are fundamentally greedy and grasping. In this century, that can lead to the extinction of humanity, so it's imperative that we use those brains of ours to evoke that shift. Cooperation is what the species needs, and that's learned behavior. And, now is the hour when we have to learn it big time.

I like entertaining the concept of needing to use our brains to evoke what's unnatural to our biology. If we realize we're moving in a predictable pattern of development, we won't see ourselves as off-base, struggling to get on. There's a sense of insufficiency that I think exists among seekers, who might better think of themselves as finders. Shifting our consciousness could be seen as graduate work in the course on human beingness in which we're all enrolled. Then, we can follow your prescription – keep letting the awareness evolve of how we aren't what we're observing, letting curiosity tug at us about what is watching that can make that observation. Then, I'd promise people that what will happen is that eventually – and it could be fast – they will find themselves in some vastness where there's nothing but that awareness. You, Jim, who have been there, can assure people that such a "place" exists: now folks, play the game, get quiet, just watch and keep realizing that there is a watcher who can comment but is itself not observable or definable. You're looking for that cross-over, to where you become the seeing itself. Pure seeing. That kicks in as an experience – an epiphany. Once it's come at that level, you realize it's who you are. You never can not know that. Since we live in hustle bustle and the access to this vastness comes in quiet concentration, you won't be blissed out as a base-line, but knowing that you are "that" has repercussions in your life. Maybe what we can do is reassure each other that who we are is who we are, as we then naturally find ourselves creating new lives.

Does this compute for you? It's different from what you said, "The deeper the realization of this fact, the closer you draw to enlightenment, or freedom." I'm talking a shift, not something less easy to define and to recognize.

I wonder how mindfulness, from Buddhism, overlays this. Is that another way to use your mind or can we distill these "ways" to one essence? Gary, where are you? Can you jump in?

Gary responds:

Hi, Suzanne!

I'm "here." (In quotes, 'cos cyberspace is every place – – – – – – – )

Even in cyberspace, everyone can see me blush as I read your words about my "juiciness," etc. Thanks.

Well, the way of the Buddha IS ordinary life: any supposed other shore only makes you realize that this life, this moment, is all there is. Like, that realization IS the other shore.


It's not like the Oscars, where you have to put on some outrageous dress to "get it." It's right here, right now, this body, this life time, this everyday mind that has the seeds for awakening, becoming illumined, becoming buddha.

You could get there through words in a book, or song of a bird, or breathing in and out – not necessarily anything "external" (internal/external being relative). And noncoercive. Try and see for yourself.

You'd asked about mindfulness. Someone came upon a group of people in a forest (in India, long ago). She'd heard they were Buddhists. She asked the Buddha what they did. The Buddha said, "We chop wood, we carry water." "But, oh!" she said, "that's what I do too! What makes you any different?!" The Buddha replied: "When we chop wood, we know we are chopping wood. When we carry water, we know we are carrying water."

I enjoyed the book you gave me, Seven Words, and wish the project luck. Meanwhile, I've been given EVERYDAY SERENITY from the publisher who'd like me to write a forward to an upcoming new edition. Without labelling anything Buddhist or Christian or anything, it provides simple, viable steps to awakening for "people who do too much."

May all beings thrive.

Suzanne replies:

Love to see your forward to EVERYDAY SERENITY. "Life-changing book" and "For those seeking a greater understanding of life!" are the headlines on Amazon five star reviews. I like the book's advocacy: "Stopping, 'which is doing nothing – for as briefly as a minute or for as long as a month – for the purpose of becoming more fully awake and remembering who you are.'" So, this could be a methodology for switching tracks to where oneness and long term survival behavior live.

Have something to add? Chime in via email or post comments on our feedback page. More posts will be added as the conversation continues...

Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts...they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun, but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric...

-Edna St. Vincent Millay-

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